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Chemical "Gassing" of Unruly Mentally Ill Inmates Unconstitutional

Chemical "Gassing" of Unruly Mentally Ill Inmates Unconstitutional

August 20, 2010—A Federal appeals court has supported an earlier ruling by a lower court that established the unconstitutionality of gassing disruptive mentally ill inmates in their cells. While the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other chemical agents on inmates is legal in Florida, this manner of force is prohibited against those whose psychiatric disorders preclude them from conforming to behavior otherwise expected from the mainstream prison population.

It is important to note that mentally ill inmates who cannot understand an order, and thus cannot comply, cannot be “pepper sprayed.” A mental health specialist must be consulted for inmates in areas designated for those with more serious illness on (in effect) “gassing competency” before being sprayed.

The Court confirmed that the use of chemical agents as a punitive measure on mentally ill and similarly vulnerable inmates in the Florida State Prison system infringes on their Eighth Amendment rights by subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishment. In what the 11th Circuit Court deemed “an unfortunate twist of events,” co-plaintiff Jeremiah Thomas had died in Florida Department of Corrections custody just 4 days before the case was argued. The Court determined that Thomas’ father was entitled to assume his son’s interest in the suit.
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Related content:
Wrestling With Evil in Prison Psychiatry
Guilty of Mental Illness
Forensic Psychiatry as a Specialty

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